With the release of Guillermo del Toro's “Pacific Rim” invading theaters this weekend, it's time to remember some of the other extra-terrestrial visitations we've had close encounters with during past decades.
If you've got a favorite, let me know at email@example.com. To prime the pump, here are 10 intriguing alien invasion films, in alphabetical order:
1. “Alien” — The copy for the classic one-sheet poster simply read: “In space, no one can hear you scream.” Ridley Scott's innovative 1979 thriller about an interplanetary parasite invading the space craft Nostradamus and turning the crew into larvae munchies messed with more than just our heads, it challenged our genre expectations.
Dan O'Bannon's sharp screenplay killed off the supposed hero — the ship's captain (Tom Skerritt) — early in the action, throwing us into character-association disequilibrium until a lowly female warrant officer named Ripley (an unknown Sigourney Weaver) emerged as our best hope for human survival.
A masterpiece of organic creature creation (from Swiss surrealist H.R. Geiger) and innovative set design (preceding Scott's 1982 futuristic masterwork “Blade Runner”), “Alien” has proved itself a timeless scare classic. We'll just ignore the fact that in space, we humans would technically be the aliens, not the indigenous parasitic life-forms already out there.
2. “The Blob” — The 1958 cheapie science-fiction thriller that jump-started Steve McQueen's career while capitalizing on America's fear of being assimilated into a foreign mass capable of turning individuals into mindless parts of a collective predator. Can you say communism?
By today's standards, the blobby alien invader (consisting of a weather balloon and colored silicone gel) looks cheesy, but if 1958 audiences could accept the 28-year-old McQueen as a teenybopper, believing in the blob couldn't have been much of a stretch.
By the way, the catchy “Blob” theme song, resembling “Tequila” with bottle cork popping sounds, came from the early teaming of Hal David and Burt Bacharach.
3. “Communion” — This quirky 1989 take on the alien invasion genre stars Christopher Walken as Whitley Strieber, author of several “true” books chronicling his experiences being abducted and probed by alien beings.
Philippe Mora's problematic movie supplies no easy answers, but presents Strieber's story as a nightmarish ordeal that begs the question: Did these unsettling events really happen, or is he mentally unstable?
During filming, Strieber reportedly told Walken that he might be playing his character a little too crazy, and the actor replied, “If the shoe fits ...”
4. “The Day the Earth Stood Still” — In 1951 before the science-fiction film genre became a conduit for communist Red Scare metaphors, the great Robert Wise directed actor Michael Rennie to fame as a pacifist alien ambassador who lands on Earth to plead for its leaders to stop nuclear testing — or be destroyed.
The idea that robots could rule Rennie's world came as real news to audiences who came out of this movie uttering “Klaatu barada nikto,” the sentence that instructs the robot Gort to stand down from killing Patricia Neal and the rest of the planet.
A classic movie with a supremely perfect score from Bernard Herrmann (with help from a spooky Theramin musical instrument).
5. “E.T. — The Extra-Terrestrial” — The seeds for Steven Spielberg's kinder, gentler alien invasion fantasy had already been planted in his 1977 science-fiction thriller “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” depicting visiting entities as beneficent, intergalactic friends.
With his retelling of a classic “boy and his dog” adventure (with E.T. replacing the canine), Spielberg turned the suburbs into a launchpad for one of the most beloved motion pictures ever made.
Little Drew Barrymore became the biggest star from the kids in the cast, including Henry Thomas, who won the role as Elliot by thinking of his pet dog's death to re-create sadness during his audition.
And don't those studio execs at Columbia Pictures feel bad they passed on distributing “E.T.”?
6. “Invasion of the Bodysnatchers” — The 1950s communist Red Scare hysteria fed the fear factor in Don Siegel's superbly crafted 1956 tale of gnawing paranoia as alien pods replicate humans, taking their identities and bodies, but sucking out their souls and killing their individuality. (The Borg could take a lesson here.)
Kevin McCarthy plays the hero who discovers that the alien conversion can only occur if Americans fall asleep, hence, the movie makes its own plea for us to stay alert.
The movie spawned three remakes, none of which resonated with the political zeitgeist as the Siegel original did.
7. “The Hidden” — Actor Kyle MacLachlan has always possessed an otherworldly look about him, and that plays perfectly into his casting as an alien cop tracking down an intergalactic serial killer capable of assuming the bodies of his victims and rendering his trail untraceable.
Michael Nouri plays the Earthling detective who suspects nothing about the true origins of MacLachlan's FBI agent.
Jim Kouf's tight script adds a nice little touch at the end of Jack Sholder's low-budget, minor sci-fi classic.
8. “The Man Who Fell to Earth” — Here's a switch from the standard alien-invasion theme.
In Nicolas Roeg's 1976 cult drama, David Bowie's stranded alien becomes corrupted by the very American culture he uses to raise the capital to build a spacecraft that can return him to his water-starved home planet.
Like the unseen microbes that spell doom for the alien invaders in George Pal's “War of the Worlds,” the invisible forces of American consumerism turn Bowie's conscientious explorer into an alcoholic couch potato who spends his time watching TV.
Good to know we've got an ace up our sleeves should aliens try to take over America.
9. “Superman” — America's favorite alien immigrant began the stampede of superheroes to the movies when the late Christopher Reeve donned the red cape back in Richard Donner's 1978 epic.
Reeve came off so perfectly balanced between leading man and comedian that today it's hard to imagine anyone else playing the Man of Steel in this whimsical film, even though Marlon Brando (as Jor-El) received top billing and more money for about eight minutes of screen time.
Hard to believe that Warner Bros. considered Robert Redford, Sylvester Stallone, Charles Bronson, Ryan O'Neal, Clint Eastwood, Nick Nolte and Kris Kristofferson among the actors to play Super. (Bronson? Really?)
10. “The Thing” — Before he became Marshal Matt Dillon on the CBS hit western series “Gunsmoke,” James Arness played the plantlike title extra-terrestrial character that runs around a North Pole research facility knocking off the humans, among them the scientist who pleads for understanding and communication.
This movie, produced by Howard Hawks, came out the same year as “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” and canceled the notion of alien invaders as rational beings.
It's a scare classic, a virtual haunted house tale where you don't know what's behind the door until you open it. Mostly, the movie mirrors Hawks' recurring postwar theme of how unity among Americans can repel the dangers and threats they encounter.Copyright © 2014 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.